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In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared together “a national state of emergency” when it comes to children’s mental health. A year later, the organizations sounded the alarm again. Now the report from a poll taken in late 2021 confirms what they said: our teen girls are not well.
The Youth Risk Survey, conducted every two years, was given to 17,000 high school adolescents across the United States in fall 2021. According to the Washington Post, it has found that the rates of mental health problems have gone up since 2011. General consensus among experts is that covid lockdowns made it all worse.
In 2021, nearly 1 in 3 high school girls reported that they seriously considered suicide — up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago — according to new findings from the CDC. Almost 15% of girls said they had been forced to have sex, which is an increase of 27% over two years. Girls’ rates of feeling sad and hopeless have increased dramatically.
These stats are incredibly concerning and tragic, and there’s a lot to unpack. But for parents seeing this playing out in their own teen daughters, what can be done?
Here are a few suggestions to begin with — although the best approaches and solutions need to be tailored to your own child and may include turning to mental health professionals like doctors and therapists for advice. But you can start by considering ideas like these:
Spend more regular time with your daughter
Modern life is exceptionally busy, and both parents are often working long hours outside the home. Take stock of how much time you’re spending with your teens. Adolescence is a developmentally sensitive time and teens need their parents just as much as young children, just in different ways. Make a point to listen to your teens and their concerns — don’t trivialize what may be important to them. And consider how you can make a regular practice of having dinner together as a family, spending time in the evening with one another, as well as on weekends, especially Sundays.
Pray with and for her
People of faith should never underestimtae the power of prayer. Prayer brings peace and invites God into our lives and situations. Pray for your teen daughter and her needs, and pray with her. We are used to praying with our little ones, but as children age we don’t do it anymore. It can be simple — a prayer before your daughter leaves for school, driving in the car, at mealtimes or bedtime. Praying together will remind her that she can turn to God for help and healing.
Minimize or eliminate whatever is causing the most stress
What is toxic in your daughter’s life? The friends she hangs out with? Social media? Too many academic demands or extra-curricular activities? Help her to decrease or eliminate what is causing her anxiety and sadness, even if it means replacing her smart phone with a “dumb” phone, or switching schools.
Find positive role models and small groups for connection
Covid lockdowns forced teens to connect virtually, and now that’s what they’re used to. But teen girls need real life connections, real relationships, social lives. Consider church groups, local clubs, or hangout dates at your home with friends who are positive influences.
Plan something meaningful
So many teens are lost and confused today. It’s a difficult world in which to discover your identity and find meaning and purpose. Think outside the box and plan something that gets your teen daughter out of her routines — look into a service trip somewhere, plan an outdoor adventure trip, sign her up for a Catholic conference, or enroll her in an activity that challenges her and builds character like martial arts, horseback riding, or an art class.
Our teen girls deserve to grow up in peace, with hope and confidence. As parents, let us be their very best cheerleaders, advocates, and guides.
If your daughter, or anyone in your family, is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741, or dial 988 in the US. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional.